A transient shaper lets you control the attack and sustain of a signal. Unlike a compressor, they do not affect the level or the entire envelope of a sound. Transient shapers (also called ‘designers’) can increase or decrease the attack, and lengthen or shorten the sustain.
Transient designers can sharpen a signal’s punch, and even minimize mic bleed or room tone. Some transient shaper plugins are pretty simple in layout, including just Attack, Sustain, and a Gain control. The very first hardware transient designer—the SPL TD4, designed by Ruben Tilgner and released in 1998—included 4 channels with only Attack and Sustain controls.
Plugins can get away with additional features in the software world, though, such as wet/dry mix controls, sidechain filters, and lots more. In that regard they’re way more advanced and flexible than hardware, and some are even frequency-specific.
The Best Transient Shaper Plugins
1. SPL Transient Designer Plus | Brainworx/Plugin Alliance
Brainworx collaborated with SPL to produce the best plugin emulation of the definitive (and first ever!) transient shaper. Modeling a single channel of the TD4, the SPL TD Plus plugin incorporates original transient shaper sound with useful digital revisions, including a sidechain filter, parallel processing, and even a limiter to prevent digital clipping.
2. Neutron 3 Transient Shaper | iZotope
iZotope’s Neutron 3 plugin is actually a suite of different modules. These include EQ, compression, a gate, an exciter, and of course, a transient designer. The transient tool has 3 global modes and 3 contour shapes for precise control over the attack and sustain of any signal.
3. Transient Master | Native Instruments
The Transient Master by Native Instruments, based on a ‘studio favorite’ (ahem, TD4), is one of the most straightforward plugins available. Attack, Sustain, and Gain. That’s it, that’s all, and you’re off to all sorts of envelope shaping goodness. Like the SPL TD Plus, it actually has a built-in limiter as well so you can really drive the signal hard without clipping.
4. Transient Shaper | Softube
This aptly named plugin from Softube is a dual-band designer. That means you can affect the whole frequency spectrum, or process the highs and lows individually. That’s a pretty big deal in terms of flexibility. Shapers already work wonders, but that added control can completely change how you mix.
5. Spiff | Oeksound
As is expected with Oeksound plugins, Spiff is a unique take on traditional transient shaping. It’s an EQ-specific transient designer, which means you can cut and boost transients with more precision than other plugins. You can enhance the attack of super specific frequencies, to bring up the bite and punch of a snare, for instance. Or you can use it to reduce excessive mouth noise at a particular frequency in a vocal. It’s extremely detailed and versatile.
6. Oxford Envolution | Sonnox
Similar to Spiff, Envolution is a frequency-dependent envelope shaper with separate transient and sustain sections. Frequency targeting is handled by the broader tilt mode, or the more parametric-style focus mode for greater precision.
7. Punctuate | New Fangled Audio/Eventide
Punctuate is a multi-band transient shaper based on the critical bands in the human ear. Its algorithms let you control the transient emphasis or suppression of 26 critical frequency bands with just 4 controls. This makes for an incredibly powerful, but very easy to use, transient modulator.
8. Smack Attack Transient Shaper | Waves
Unlike traditional transient shapers, Smack Attack lets you control more than just attack and sustain levels. You also get precise control over the transients’ shape and duration. Then there’s a Sensitivity control for selective shaping: you can process all your transients, only the loudest ones, or whatever’s in between.
9. Transgressor 2 | Boz Digital Labs
Transgressor is a somewhat lesser known but highly reviewed transient designer. It combines traditional transient shaping with two 4-band equalizers, giving you the power to EQ attack and sustain individually. For example, you can craft the sound of your drums any way you want, whether it’s subtle enhancement or changing the sound of an entire kit.
10. Oxford TransMod | Sonnox
TransMod is somewhat simple. It lets you soften or harden attacks and transients with just a few basic controls, or increase/decrease the effects of room ambience. Plus, you can add harmonic distortion with the Overdrive feature for an extra 6dB of peaks above digital max without clipping. That gives your instrument or even full mix extra way more loudness and punch.
Best Free Transient Shaper Plugin
Flux BitterSweet V3 is one of the best known and loved free transient shapers. It features a big large control in the center of the plugin; turning to the Sweet side softens transients, while turning to the Bitter side enhances them. That’s about as simple as it gets, and it’s free, so there’s really no reason not to try it!